Peoples Temple Radio:
An Archived Site

One of the least examined aspects of Peoples Temple’s history was its relationship with the Federal Commiunications Commission (FCC). The relationship was also an important one: Jonestown’s only medium of direct and immediate communication with the outside world was through its HAM amateur radio; the Concerned Relatives oppositional group knew of the Temple’s use of its HAM radio – and of its misuses as well, such as conducting Temple business on its bandwidths – and alerted the FCC of the violations; and HAM operators around the US started reporting their own experiences with communications from Jonestown. With all these considerations in mind, history student and HAM operator Josef Dieckman launched a website to document all aspects of Jonestown radio. The site was active for several years in the first decade of the 2000s before going offline. This website has restored as much of the site as has been possible to do, and has archived it below.

Restored Pages

Some of the links within these articles are no longer operational and have been disabled.

Additional Info

The FCC Tapes
Radio operators in Jonestown used a Yaesu FT 101ee
Links to Transcripts:
Links to Other Ham Radio Transcripts
FCC #3
(Editor's note: Ham radio communications provided a crucial link between the people of Jonestown and Peoples Temple members in Georgetown and San Francisco. While they undoubtedly violated their licensing agreement by conducting business affairs on the amateur radio network, so is it also true that they perceived FCC monitoring of their activity as an overzealous part of a larger, more sinister conspiracy against them. For these reasons, the role of the FCC and of other hams who reported on Temple activities to the federal agency has always been of interest to this website.)
Introduction by Fielding McGehee III

Reprinted here with permission
                                                   Listening to Jonestown
Josef Dieckman

??     As researchers and historians know, the Peoples Temple was quite proactive in keeping careful documentation of their internal and external activities and dealings. One way this was accomplished was by making audio recordings of everything from telephone conversations, meetings, “confessions” and, after the move to Jonestown, amateur radio communications. Being the fastest and most convenient mode of communication between Guyana and the United states, the Temple valued amateur radio highly and utilized it to its fullest potential. Concerned amateur radio operators, better known as ‘hams’, were listening to the traffic being passed back and forth between Guyana and San Francisco with raised eyebrows. Concern grew as these hams began noticing obvious rule violations on the part of the Temple operators. While many grumbled at the fact, others took action. Complaints were launched against the Temple to various organizations including the American Radio Relay League and the Federal Communications Commission. A handful of hams even went so far as to monitor and record communications between Guyana and the U.S. in hopes of providing evidence as to the Temple’s rule violations. In time, some of these tapes were sent to the FCC for analysis. Fielding McGehee, primary researcher for the Jonestown Institute, holds copies of such tapes and had asked me in the Fall of 2003 if I would be interested in listening to and transcribing them. I accepted.

      The FCC tapes number 1-24, covering dates in 1977 and 1978, and are in no particular order. I began with a group of four tapes, and what I heard only reinforced what I had already been told about the nature of the material on them-that they were
coded and secretive ham radio communications. When I began listening to the first tape (FCC #3) I found nothing odd about it. I was listening to two men, thousands of miles apart, exchanging part-numbers for appliances like freezers and refrigerators. I kept waiting for the blatant rule infractions like obvious business traffic and coded talk. But being the first one I had listened to, everything sounded on the level. At times, some obvious arrant mistakes came through, such as the botching of call signs, which occurred more than once. This aside, nothing struck me as too odd. However, as I worked transcribing the other tapes, my suspicions grew, and suddenly things began appearing odd and inconsistent. The ‘code’ began to emerge, and although I had (and I’m still struggling with it) no idea what it all meant, I knew it sounded peculiar. I wasn’t alone in this. 25 years ago, hams across the nation heard the same things and wondered as to their true meaning. After a while, it was easy to see, for example, how names of people and places were being disguised. Speakers with distinct voices like Maria Katsaris and Deborah Layton weren’t referring to themselves by there real names and I initially wondered, “Who the heck are Sarah, Martha, Margaret, Marguerite, and Mildred?”

     Clearly, the
code is the most intriguing aspects of these tapes. However, if one listens closely enough and long enough, other important fascinating things begin to emerge out of them. Personalities, likes, dislikes, pet-peeves, temperament…”normal” people-stuff becomes as obvious as the code. The individuals making these radio transmissions weren’t strictly mission-minded automatons. They joked, laughed, made mistakes, and grew annoyed at one another on more than one occasion.I find that I look forward to these moments of ‘exposure’ because it is refreshing…because it removes the sting of the oft-repeated formula of: ‘speak-relay-question-relay-answer-next’ that dominates the majority of the conversations.

      What kind of things should one expect to hear on these tapes? Everything from the mundane to the super-secret. For instance, on
FCC #6 one radio operator in Guyana is arguing with a radio operator in San Francisco about the benefits of brown versus white rice. On the same tape, veiled talk includes refrences to “Ricky’s top boss” and “the plumber’s daughter.” On FCC #4  a rare break-in occurred when a stateside ham broke the QSO between Guyana and the US in an attempt to track down the QSL card that a Jonestown operator has promised to send him. The conversation that follows is revealing of the kind of slick deception practiced by Temple radio operators. When the stateside ham initially makes contact, a Temple radio operator, who I believe is Debby Layton, tells the ham her name is “Mildred.” Only a minute later Layton tells the ham, “Uh, the handle here right now is Sarah. Sierra Alpha Romeo Alpha Hotel.” Even more bizarre than this blatant attempt at disguising her identity is the fact that the ham doesn’t appear to notice the discrepancy…or doesn’t care. Also on FCC #4, an interesting conversation takes place in which one Temple operator explains to another operator the workings of a play that the children presented called, “Melanie.” The description of the play includes details about the names of the characters and what they did or said as they interacted with the other players. Clearly, this is all code, but for what I have yet to determine. Perhaps the details of the ‘play’ reflected actual events that had taken place at some kind of meeting or happenstance event. Again, it is a prime example of the kind of on-air deception that Temple radio operators regularly engaged in.

     There is more work to be done with these tapes, aside from simply transcribing them. For instance, one goal is to locate the maker, or makers, of these tapes. I know of a few possible sources and have been in contact with them on several occasions. One ham in Tennessee has what amounts to a treasure trove of recordings and notes he made in 1977 and 1978 of Guyana/US communications. Working on these FCC tapes has allowed me to expand my scope of interest in Peoples Temple/Jonestown history. As a result, I have been working for months, gathering information and source material from hams across the US about their experiences listening to and communicating with Temple radio operators in Jonestown. I have received everything from actual QSL cards sent from Jonestown to a copy of
Dr. Larry Schacht’s application for membership in the Medical Amatuer Radio Council, or MARCO-an amateur radio based medical network.

      Although the overall response I have received to my appeals for information has been relatively small, in all actuality I am thrilled I have received as much as I have and I am grateful to each and every ham who has went out of his or her way to help me in my endeavor. I am also thankful for the help that many former Temple members have extended to me by answering my questions and providing their critical insight and criticism. I look forward to the months and years ahead as I continue my work on these tapes and the broader project of exploring  the Temple’s use of Amateur radio.
More transcripts to come
FCC #5
Home The FCC Tapes QSL Cards Temple Radio Code The FCC Investigation

My Articles FCC Documents Ham Recollections Jonestown Logbooks

What I am Working On Temple Call Signs Comments Page
email me:
< Want to hear this tape? Then click the link.
FCC #6
FCC #9
< Audio sample of this tape available
< Audio sample of this tape available
<<< NEW
                                         ** NOTICE**

You will not find the so called, "Death Tape", anywhere on my site. If that's what you came here looking for, you are out of luck. Yes, I have heard it. Yes, I have my own copy. Yes, it is disturbing. No, I wont copy it for you. No, I wont send you any audio files from it. No, I wont tell you where to get       your own copy.
<< New
<< New